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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

Score: 74%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Press Play
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer/ Action/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

The predecessor to Max: The Curse of Brotherhood was a cute game (initially for PC and Mac) called Max & the Magic Marker. Based on this, we were expecting a cute side-scrolling Platformer with bold, blocky graphics that would lean toward a younger audience. The first game was long on charm, but not so much on subtlety; it felt very much like an indie offering. Booting up The Curse of Brotherhood shows off a higher level of design and polish, plus the camera has moved back a bit to reveal lots of little details in the world around Max. The magic marker of the first game doesnít even make an appearance in the early levels, sending a clear signal that The Curse of Brotherhood is working on a fresh palette.

The look and feel of this game is best compared to Limbo, both in terms of the graphics and the perspective youíre given on the action. Later levels set in the dark start to look extremely familiar to fans of Limbo or other platforming titles that use light and shadow in a painterly fashion. Light or dark, color or monochrome, The Curse of Brotherhood is nothing if not well designed. The character and background animations are smooth and draw you into the gameís world, while the music and sound effects are appropriately timed to create and sustain tension in key spots. There are even animated sequences that play as a reward for exploration or to advance the gameís story between stages.


Gameplay:

The first game in this series focused so much on solving puzzles that it appeared to be more of a physics-based puzzler than a platforming game. The magic marker that Max wields in both games was really the star of the show initially, but Max himself takes center stage in The Curse of Brotherhood. He initially navigates his surroundings through running, jumping, and climbing around a fantasy world after his brother is spirited by a wicked and twisted enemy. Dodging the dangers in your surroundings and the powerful creatures working in service to your enemy form the core of the gameís experience. Along the way, youíll discover your magic marker and add to its abilities.

Some other special pieces of the gameplay include hidden objects that you can collect in each level. The enemy has eyes everywhere, literal eyeballs on stalks that youíll find stuck in obvious and less obvious spots throughout the world of The Curse of Brotherhood. Plucking these out reduces your enemies' ability to see your movements, but mainly serves as a way to earn achievements. Another smaller set of hidden objects can only be found in the gameís most remote areas. Aside from special challenges like this, youíll find your progression through the game happens in a very linear fashion.


Difficulty:

The puzzles in The Curse of Brotherhood are well thought out, but not always well executed. There are numerous areas that youíll need to repeat again and again in order to get just the right timing, and some that feel glitchy. Climbing vines or timing jumps can feel more like luck than skill, and puzzles involving blocks can be particularly glitchy thanks to Maxís tendency to get stuck in tight spaces. One level midway through the game includes a puzzle that involves creating and cutting a tree limb in the hope that it falls into just the right place to form a bridge. A wandering creature in that level can then use the bridge to climb up and help you move forward. This all sounds great until you see how much trial and error is required to drop that limb in exactly the right spot. The margin for error is huge and your frustration level will rise, and this goes double for puzzles where Max dies if you get it wrong. Checkpoints are plentiful, but thatís little comfort when youíre repeating a series of button presses for the 20th time. Thinking back to Limbo we remember plenty of challenging obstacles, but few that didnít give up their secrets after a handful of attempts. Designing levels for what feels like a fair challenge is the difference between a good and bad platformer, and The Curse of Brotherhood mostly ends up straddling that line.

Game Mechanics:

Using the magic marker is much more fun this time around, and intuitive enough with respect to the Xbox 360 controller. Pressing and holding one of the triggers summons the marker, which you can then move around with the Analog Stick. The opposite trigger destroys or cuts elements youíve created with the marker, a critical skill for more advanced puzzles. The line-drawing aspect of the first game still comes into play with tree limbs, but other elements create interesting variety. Earth spires can block enemies or lift Max to otherwise inaccessible spots. Vines can attach to earth or tree limbs, and swing Max across huge gaps. Itís neat to see how elements can be combined to create more advanced puzzles, while remaining intuitive.

Fans of the first game will find this new release much improved, and players who appreciate a thinking-personís platformer should give The Curse of Brotherhood a try. Even with its faults and glitchy challenges, the game manages to summon some solid platforming fun in a really attractive package. The magic marker is equal parts magic and frustration, but itís a unique mechanic that elevates The Curse of Brotherhood beyond just the real of an ordinary platformer.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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